Green Fatigue

No-Burn Days in 2010 Generated 559 Complaints, but Little Action by Maricopa County


Hundreds of people called Maricopa County this year to complain about people violating restrictions on wood-burning.

Despite the Valley's ongoing problem with bad air, though, those calls resulted in almost no action by the county.

The county's Air Quality Department announced 11 no-burn days in 2010, and received 559 complaints based on those days, says Cari Gerchick, county spokeswoman.

In response, the county issued a grand total of four notices of violation.

The county also issued four warnings. But because a county ordinance dictates that a violator must receive a warning first, and a violation notice second, it's possible that the four warnings and four violations were given to the same people.

The non-enforcement of the no-burn ordinance isn't a new issue: The Associated Press reported back in 1997, three years after the ordinance was enacted, that no tickets had yet been issued.

As were reported yesterday, the county sent out teams of people to enforce the no-burn restrictions called for Christmas Eve and Day -- but no enforcement occurred. A question comes to our cynical mind: How much overtime pay did those teams draw to "work" on the Christmas holiday?

Meanwhile, pollution levels spiked on those days.

Gerchick told us yesterday that compliance officers don't knock on the doors of suspected violators out of fear of a potential confrontation. Instead, if a county official sees smoke pouring from a chimney on a no-burn day, the county mails a warning or violation notice to the homeowner. (We wonder how the county can make that charge stick, if they don't actually know who started and/or tended the fire.)

Seems a like a better system is needed to curtail fireplace use on bad-air days -- one that's not based on fines and citations that no one's getting anyway.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern